Part of BFI Comedy Genius, Sign for All collaborated with Women Over Fifty Film Festival (WOFFF) and The New Black Film Collective (TNBFC) in screening silent short films for the deaf community in Birmingham’s MAC and London’s Stratford East Picturehouse. The screenings also included stand up Deaf Comedian Rinkoo Barpaga.
Why the project matters
Accessibility and awareness is very important, however, in the deaf community these areas are missed. This project allowed deaf people to access mainstream settings, they were able to watch a different genre of silent film and see deaf stand-up comedian (and filmmaker) Rinkoo perform. Ideally, this project will influence other cinemas to think about how they can incorporate accessibility for the deaf audience in their cinemas and consider having their films subtitled.
To ensure BFI Comedy Genius (as one of its many blockbuster seasons) recognises not only the deaf audience but where it also intersects with a diverse community.
Another key point for us was to occupy spaces in venues that have traditional been the preserve of white middle-class able-bodied groups, especially in the regions.
We achieved a decent turnout for our screenings, despite having a limited budget. We juxtaposed black & white silent films from classic and contemporary periods, which were made by white female and a Black male filmmaker respectively.
Sidewalks Stories and Mabel’s Blunder
MAC, Stratford East Picturehouse, TNBFC, WOFFF, 888 Film Club, The Film Bunch, British Deaf Association (BDA).
The deaf Asian comedian Rinkoo, who is based in Birmingham, was a coup and raised the profile of the programme. He helped us attract a mixed audience and made both screenings extremely entertaining.
What didn’t work
We underestimated the budget for the project, which meant some people had to work without getting paid. We didn’t get the first choice of the venue in the Midlands, ie. Lighthouse in Wolverhampton, which affected our marketing, schedule and audience turnout. We felt we should have received more support from that venue because we identified a Deaf BAME community, who have historically found it difficult to access their space/or have not felt welcomed.
What you’d do differently if you did it again
A bigger budget, longer marketing campaign, partners and venues on board earlier and to explain to the deaf audience (and the younger generation) what silent films are (e.g. through hand-outs).
Awareness & attitudes
We engaged the help of the BDA to let us link our event after their AGM at the MAC. However, they did not help us on the day to drive their attendees to our screening, which was the point.
We felt there was still an issue within the BDA culture that excludes ethnic minorities and does not encourage diversity and inclusion.
The project underlines that there is far more work to do in the regions when it comes to equality, representation and developing audiences, because we had a better experience in London.
Knowledge & experience
Personally, this was my first experience planning and leading screenings in London and Birmingham. At first, it felt very overwhelming and I didn’t feel 100% confident but I was determined to work on the project, as I knew its benefits for my film club going forward. Thankfully, support from partners made it easier. Despite the challenges, I really enjoyed the whole journey and it has already led to new projects.